There are currently almost 330 million Americans, up from 309 million in 2010. Yet despite this growth in absolute numbers, there continues to be increasing concern about the country’s ability to keep growing in the years to come.
The US population once forecasted to reach 400 million Americans by the middle of this century, reported its lowest population growth ever according to the Brookings Institute. Multiple states recorded major losses in population, with New York, California, and Illinois being the biggest losers.
This decline has been caused by three factors. First, deaths in the US have risen. This is partially due to COVID, but also due to second-order effects created by the disease and lockdowns. For example, people are more isolated and are exercising less.
Second, immigration has declined. Trump was famously anti-immigrant and Biden has done very little to reserve Trump’s policies. His recent decision to only allow 100,000 Ukrainian refugees into America, even though over 4 million have been created from the ongoing conflict, serves as one example.
But most importantly of all, fertility is declining. Even Utah, one of the most fertile states in the country, only has a total fertility rate of 1.92. A rate of 2.1 is needed to maintain a population, never mind grow it. Nevertheless, the United States has been seeing a continued drop in fertility. Fewer people are getting married, and those who have partners are either putting off having children or otherwise not doing so altogether.
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The Problems of a Declining Population
At first glance, some might wonder whether a population decline is really such a bad thing. And it is true that some of the reasons for the decline in fertility are good. There are fewer teen and unintended pregnancies, for example.
But a declining population has negative economic effects, and we are not just talking about how less people will now buy Silver Cross strollers. A shrinking population creates a stagnant economy, especially when combined with the fact that despite years of talk of the growth of automation and AI, none of that has significantly improved worker productivity.
Furthermore, the US population will not just be stagnant, but be growing significantly older. That means that a smaller percentage of young people will need to help sustain a larger population of older people. With increasing resources going to elder care, that means that the United States will have less resources for other projects, such as defense or climate change.
What is to be done? Unfortunately, the problem of a declining population is not a uniquely American problem. Other developed areas across the world, particularly Japan and Western Europe, are having similar issues and there has been no clear solution for how to solve improving fertility rates.
In Utah, some experts have talked about childbearing and children as a public good, instead of the private burden which many Americans seem to view children as. Hopefully by encouraging investment into children, both financially and culturally, that may help to somewhat stem the tide of declining fertility.